It is hot.
The pedestal fan, which oscillates on two beds, blows weakly hot air through the waving mosquito net, the lazy breeze barely reaches me. A mosquito always dodges the burning coils next to the bed in order to find through the net who is older than me – maybe even my father. I can’t see it, but I can hear and feel it.
Christmas is over and the days expand, blur into one another, creating a haze that is summer. A tropical summer in north Queensland.
It sounds like a dream, a reward at the end of a long year – a few weeks in a stream by the water. But it’s hot, sticky, and itchy. The smell of insect repellent remains.
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Leftovers from the Deguara family’s Christmas party – a Maltese festival with pastizzi, imqarrun il-forn (baked macaroni) and fresh prawns – are still in the fridge and offer us an uncomplicated meal for the few lost days between Christmas and the New Year.
As adults, we spent days in this beach paradise on a palm-lined street in the sleepy town of Seaforth. It was about 40 minutes from home, there were only two general stores (the nearby store and the good store – further away), everyone knew each other, and the local bowling club knew how to make a good breaded steak.
The stream was small but cozy, with no air conditioning, no internet, hardly any phone reception, and a small television with a handful of channels. We spent our nights lazing around and watching the movie that ran that night.
The bunk beds my brother, sister, and I had were huddled together in one room, while mom and dad had a separate room with a view of the water. Crashing waves were our lullabies. Most meals were eaten together on the porch while we watched the cars go by and wondered if we knew the occupants as they passed slowly. The little wooden fence Dad put up to prevent me from walking into the street when I was young is still strong.
Glass louvers line the front of the house, letting the hot summer air flow through each night that carries the sound of the waves.
The back yard was reserved for the Hills Hoist and Shed, where memories of past summers were hidden, waiting for another chance to see the sun – reef shoes, boogie boards, old bikes. I think there was even an avocado tree.
At night, above the sound of fans and curlews outside (a haunted bird’s sound that always came from under the house), every movement in the house could be heard – geckos scurrying across the kitchen floor, floorboards creaking under the feet of someone blindly leading themselves to the bathroom. Mum and Dad sometimes thought – well, think – the house is haunted, the ghost of Dad’s uncle who built it was walking around.
It was heaven.
We spent our days fishing in a tin shack barely above the water when we were all in it (which we ignored when crocodiles slid off the nearby banks), running across sand, and skimboarding in shallow water at low tide , Pumping yabbies, getting blocks of ice and fish and chips from the store, playing May I (a card game every Deguara knows) and French cricket and panting over lost games of chess (that was me). I fondly remember Dad sinking me on his bike to get the morning paper from the good shop.
Despite the heat and the unobstructed view of the seductive sea, we seldom swam. The water was often as hot as the sand you tiptoeed over to get to the coast, and don’t even let me start with the things that might kill you, the dangers lurking beneath the surface – crocodiles , Sharks, box jellyfish, Irukandji jellyfish and my poor swimming skills.
Even the enclosure wasn’t a safe bet. Small sharks and stingrays would sneak through holes in the net at high tide to swim between us, only to be caught when the water receded.
Family friends trickled in, their arrival being warned by a straggler on the porch yelling “someone is here”. We ate, drank, talked and ended the day with a protracted “Anyway” – a classic Australian signal that marks the end of a conversation.
Now, at the age of 27, I sit in my Wellington apartment trying to enjoy a summer that isn’t actually summer and remember the hot, stuffy, itchy summers that it was. From the campfires on the beach to roast marshmallows; from the barbecues that Dad and my brother made along with the rest of the dinner that Mom and my sister had made; not having a single plan for the day other than to relax and not let the heat overwhelm you; tiptoeing around the house at 1:30 p.m. after waking up early from an afternoon nap, which was practically a family routine.
This summer is a far cry from the summer vacation I once knew.
She is a beauty.
Although my siblings and I grew up, got married, and had kids (I only did the first of these … and maybe not even that), it’s a routine we go back to the creek with. It’s rooted in us, a part of us. The beach has eroded, washing away the trees we once climbed and built tree houses, but the memory of the booby traps we dug in the sand and the water tunnels we dug with our hands remain .
To be thousands of miles away from family at a time that is usually so joyful is painful. It seems to me as if tears flee at the mere thought of another celebration without a hug from mom and dad, without smelling the roast boiling in the oven, when I wake up at 7 a.m. on Christmas Day without the stories of mine Heard Nannu about previous drilling operations in rural Queensland, or how he and Nanna built their business from the ground up. I miss all of this.
But my fiancé and I are making new memories and laying the foundation for our future children who we can look back on in 20 or 30 years just as I am. It’s a nice thought.
Sand, mosquitos, or fishing trips might not be included in these new memories, but that’s fine. That’s the beauty of growing up – I notice, I remember it more often these days – things change, but one thing has stayed the same. Love. The love I feel for my family, for our memories, for this hot, sticky, itchy place.
But here is the next chapter, to new summers that will stay with me for years to come, and the thought that one day my own family will return to this little creek in the tropical north of Queensland.